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Large engineering works began around the start of the 20th century, with major guidelines established in a series of international and U. interstate treaties known as the "Law of the River". Most of the major dams were built between 19; the system keystone, Hoover Dam, was completed in 1935.The Colorado is now considered among the most controlled and litigated rivers in the world, with every drop of its water fully allocated.Large-scale settlement of the lower basin began in the mid- to late-19th century, with steamboats providing transportation from the Gulf of California to landings along the river that linked to wagon roads to the interior.Lesser numbers settled in the upper basin, which was the scene of major gold strikes in the 1860s and 1870s. federal government was the main driving force behind the construction of dams and aqueducts, although many state and local water agencies were also involved.

For the first 250 miles (400 km) of its course, the Colorado carves its way through the mountainous Western Slope, a sparsely populated region defined by the portion of the state west of the Continental Divide.Beginning with small bands of nomadic hunter-gatherers, Native Americans have inhabited the Colorado River basin for at least 8,000 years.Between 2,000 and 1,000 years ago, the river and its tributaries fostered large agricultural civilizations – some of the most sophisticated indigenous cultures in North America – which eventually faded due to a combination of severe drought and poor land use practices.Most native peoples that inhabit the basin today are descended from other groups that settled in the region beginning about 1,000 years ago.Europeans first entered the Colorado Basin in the 16th century, when explorers from Spain began mapping and claiming the area, which later became part of Mexico upon its independence in 1821.Early contact between Europeans and Native Americans was generally limited to the fur trade in the headwaters and sporadic trade interactions along the lower river.

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